Rice Announces Retirement, the 30th House Democrat to Plan an Exit

WASHINGTON — Representative Kathleen Rice of New York announced on Tuesday that she would not seek re-election, making her the 30th House Democrat to opt for an exit ahead of what is expected to be a difficult midterm election cycle in which the party appears headed for losses.

Ms. Rice’s retirement announcement marked a grim milestone for House Democrats: The number planning to leave Congress is now the biggest since 1992, a sign of the party’s lack of confidence that it will be able to hold the majority this fall. Ms. Rice, a moderate, provided no explanation for her unexpected departure. She announced it on her 57th birthday, saying only that she was moving on to the “next chapter” of her life.

“As elected officials, we must give all we have and then know when it is time to allow others to serve,” Ms. Rice, a former prosecutor who has represented part of Long Island’s Nassau County since 2015, said in a statement.

Of the departing group, 22 House Democrats have said they are retiring, while eight are seeking another office. So far, 13 Republicans have also said they will not seek re-election.

“House Democrats know their majority is doomed and have a choice: retire or lose,” said Michael McAdams, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the party’s House campaign arm.

A Look Ahead to the 2022 U.S. Midterm Elections

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  • Key Issues: Democrats and Republicans are preparing for abortion and voting rights to be defining topics.

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Republican leader, has predicted that more than 30 Democrats will announce their retirement “because they see what the future holds.”

Some Democrats shrugged off the news of Ms. Rice’s retirement as the loss of a safe seat, where she will most likely be replaced by another Democrat. Ms. Rice’s district was not affected by the recent redrawing of New York’s political map, and in 2020, she won her race against the G.O.P. candidate, Douglas Tuman, by about 56 percent. President Biden won her district by 12 points in the 2020 presidential election.

But optimistic Republicans said that margin put New York’s 4th congressional district within reach in the event of a red wave, noting that a G.O.P. candidate won the governor’s race last fall in Virginia, a state Mr. Biden won by about 10 points.

Ms. Rice, who made a lasting, powerful enemy in Speaker Nancy Pelosi after vocally opposing her bid for House Speaker in 2016 and 2018, was viewed as someone who did not enjoy the job.

She had become increasingly marginalized in the ranks of House Democrats, where the loudest voices are typically from a new generation of progressives, and where her history with Ms. Pelosi had cost her opportunities. In 2019, for instance, Ms. Pelosi lobbied for other members to gain a seat on the powerful Judiciary Committee over Ms. Rice, according to Politico, despite Ms. Rice’s background as a prosecutor and her seniority.

Representative Josh Gottheimer, a centrist Democrat from New Jersey, called Ms. Rice’s retirement “a huge loss for New York, Congress and common-sense, bipartisan governing.”

“I imagine the polarization in D.C. has become so poisonous and the dysfunction so deep that more and more members want nothing to do with the absurdity of it all,” said Representative Ritchie Torres, a progressive Democrat of New York.

But some liberal Democrats joined Republicans in celebrating the news of her retirement.

“Rep. Kathleen Rice retiring to spend more time with her big pharma lobby family,” Leah Greenberg, the co-founder of Indivisible, a grass-roots progressive organization, said in a Twitter post reacting to her announcement.

Ms. Rice, who sits on the Energy and Commerce committee as well as the Homeland Security committee, was a registered Republican until 2005, when she became a Democrat to run for district attorney in Nassau County.

In Congress, she has been best known as one of the few women arguing that the party needed a fresh perspective at the top and that the lack of an obvious candidate to challenge Ms. Pelosi was a “symptom of stagnant leadership.” In 2016, she was also the first Democrat to publicly support Representative Tim Ryan’s challenge to Ms. Pelosi as House leader. Ms. Rice also voted against Ms. Pelosi in 2018. Both times, Ms. Pelosi was elected despite the efforts to topple her.

Ms. Rice supported Ms. Pelosi’s bid for speaker in 2021, but the relationship remained strained.

Ms. Pelosi’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Ms. Rice’s planned departure.

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